published Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Gov. Bill Haslam supports new evaluation process of Tennessee teachers

Should consequences be delayed for educators who perform poorly on the new teacher evaluation process?

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday defended the state's new teacher evaluation process against critics who argue that negative consequences for educators who perform poorly should be delayed while kinks in the program are worked out.

"I think it's really important that we not give up on this process too quick," Haslam told reporters. "And if it's the right thing to do for next year, I'm not sure why it's not the right thing to do for this year."

The governor noted the evaluations were proposed by his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, and passed by the General Assembly. They were the key factor in Tennessee winning a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant to carry out education reform, he said.

"We'll let the process work out," Haslam said. "Remember, this is November and we started [the new evaluations] in September. It's not like we really have a long track record in this. It takes a little bit of adjusting to get used to evaluations."

The 2010 law requires that all school personnel be evaluated annually and that personnel decisions be based, at least in part, on evaluations. At Haslam's urging, the GOP-dominated legislature this year made the evaluations a key part of winning and maintaining tenure for new teachers.

Teachers and some lawmakers -- Democrats and Haslam's fellow Republicans alike -- have complained about the classroom component of the evaluation, a required lesson plan and its 72-point checklist of things teachers must do or cover in class. The process can be confusing, time-consuming and unevenly applied, critics contend.

Last week, the House Education Committee held two days of hearings on the evaluations and heard from both opponents and supporters. Critics said worried teachers are spending as many as 10 hours on lesson plans. One lawmaker, who teaches in Shelby County, described how a colleague wept in frustration.

Haslam said the first evaluation, "because it is the one with lesson plans, does have the most paperwork involved. I think when we get past that the evaluations after that will look a little different."

During last week's hearing, several lawmakers, including House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, urged the administration to hold off using the evaluations in personnel decisions until next year to give time for problems to be resolved.

He expressed hope that "there's not one teacher ... who loses their job this year over evaluation. That's my goal."

Efforts to reach Montgomery about Haslam's comments were unsuccessful Monday.

Thirty-five percent of all evaluations are based on value-added student achievement data -- test scores that show whether students are making appropriate yearly gains for their grade level -- and 15 percent on other measures of "student achievement."

For teachers, the remaining 50 percent of an evaluation is based on "qualitative measures" such as the classroom observations, personal conferences and reviews of prior evaluations. Teachers are graded on a 1-to-5 scale with one being the worst and five the best.

The classroom component was field-tested last school year at 45 schools in 31 districts statewide. Hamilton County tested its own program, Project Coach, in most of the system's schools, and there have been relatively few problems reported in Hamilton.

Haslam's education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, has characterized problems with the state's program as relatively minor ones that can be solved by "tweaks."

Last week, at Huffman's urging, the State Board of Education cut back the number of meetings the classroom evaluators must have with teachers in order to streamline the process.

In his comments to reporters Monday, Haslam said "like anything else we put in place, we'd be less than honest if we didn't say we'll continuously re-evaluate the process to make sure we have it right. Nobody wants to get it right more than we do."

"Here's the bottom line," Haslam said. "We can't keep going the way we have in Tennessee. We don't want to be in the 40s when it comes to [national] education rankings."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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eastridge8 said...

I went to a private middle/high school in the 50's (this was before we realized that there was such a thing as a "bad" teacher) and I had WONDERFUL EXCELLENT teachers...except for one. This teacher was elderly, befuddled, forgetful, confused...and waiting on retirement...This person should NOT have been teaching...but here they were...My child went thru the same thing in elementry school...a public school. An elderly, befuddled, forgetful and confused teacher waiting on retirement.

"Bad" teachers are in public and private schools but they can be "weeded" out with the Teacher Evaluation process. America is too far behind other nations in education as it is; we don't need to slide any further BEHIND. Tennessee needs this process. We can't attract major international companies to come to Tennessee if we can't compete with other more educationally agressive states.

We need to STOP "dumbing down" our schools. We wouldn't have to do this if RESPONSIBLE PARENTS would make their children STAY in school, OFF of drugs and OUT of gangs....teach their children some manners and NOT run to school and attack the teachers/principals when they are trying to make their child BEHAVE...AND make their kids RESPECT THEIR TEACHERS,PRINCIPALS AND ALL AUTHORITY.

The inmates (our kids/lazy parents) are running the asylum (schools). I ask YOU...JUST WHO SHOULD BE RUNNING THIS OUTFIT?


Not all but SOME teachers want the same old status quo...they don't want change...what do YOU say?

November 8, 2011 at 12:04 p.m.
terrybham said...

One of the major problems with education in this country is the lack of real involvement on the part of the parents. Everyone offers their opinions on this subject but no one seems to put any responsibility on the parents. I have one child who graduated from public school with excellent grades. The parents of her friends were also involved in their education and they all graduated on time and went on to college or University. Another problem is the low esteem in which teachers are held by the politicians, parents, as well as the general public. I read about American teachers being recruited to teach overseas. I think this is a positive development and I would love to see more of it. I would love to see about fifty percent of American teachers quit teaching here and go overseas to teach. That way when the schools in this country can't find teachers to teach, they will only have themselves to blame.

November 8, 2011 at 12:53 p.m.
mbible1utk said...

The problem is that this system does not take EVERYTHING into account. I'll give a personal example: my wife is a 3rd grade teacher. She works her tail off, brings work home, is at the school from 7am til 5pm working on lesson plans. No one can honestly say she does not work hard. However, she has kids in her class that don't even know the right way to hold a pencil! These kids don't know things they should know by the time they reach third grade, and I'm not just talking about pencil holding techniques. She has to spend so much time going back and teaching kids things they should know before they reach third grade that she doesn't get to spend a lot of time on standards based materials.

That's what the evaluation system is missing. They need to take the time to dig down to the REAL problems first. Find out where the drop off is. Maybe it's a problem with the curriculum, maybe it's a problem with the people teaching it.

Another major fault is that these tests have some teachers so worried that the ONLY material they teach is what is going to be on the standards based test. For her grade, it's Math and English. Some of the teachers don't even teach science and social studies simply because that's not on the test. This evaluation system has lead so many teachers to go into "job protection mode" rather than teacher mode.

Despite my beliefs that tenure has bad characteristics, it's not an idea that needs to be scrapped. If we want to keep teachers out of job protection mode, we need to put a light at the end of the tunnel. I would propose a restructuring of tenure that would look something like this...

Years 1-6 as a teacher have no guarantees, and are based on year-to-year contracts

Years 7-10 would remain on year-to-year contracts, however there would be an available severance package should they be terminated that would include....

If fired at the end of year 7, 1/2 years severance pay

If fired at the end of year 8, 1 year severance pay

If fired at the end of year 9, 1 1/2 year severance pay

If fired at the end of year 10, 2 years severance pay

The reason for the severance pay being that teachers are heavily committed to the field that they are in. Basically, if they can't teach, you've rendered their degree useless, as there really aren't any other jobs that take those credentials.

Anyone over 10 years in teaching would be granted tenure, but based on a three strike policy. Basically, they would continue to be evaluated, but even with a poor evaluation in one year, they would not be able to be fired. They would get a chance to fix it by the next year, and if they address every issue in that evaluation by the next evaluation, they are free from that time frame. Essentially they have 2 evaluations to fix items on a bad one before they get fired. This way, they have job security, but not immunity.

November 8, 2011 at 1:03 p.m.
eastridge8 said...

mbible1utk...I like your proposed makes sense. Teachers won't like it because it will threaten their tenure (especially if they're close) but it's a good common sense approach and has merit.

Your wife sounds like a good teacher who's trying to do what the 1st or 2nd grade teachers SHOULD have done...and if the parents were paying any attention THEY should have noticed and complained or taught their child how to hold a pencil. That's just plain ridiculous!

November 8, 2011 at 6:20 p.m.
teach_them_all said...

@ eastridge8 - you stated, "America is too far behind other nations in education as it is; we don't need to slide any further BEHIND."

America is "behind" other nations because we educate ALL of our children, not just the bright ones or the children of the wealthy. The rankings that place America low on the list in education do not take that into account. Actually, America should rank above other nations because we do include ALL children.

As for evaluations, I am not afraid of them, bring them on, I welcome the opportunity to show what I can do when working with children. However, make them fair and reasonable and not where they take away from actual teaching.

@ mbible1utk - you wrote, "Basically, if they can't teach, you've rendered their degree useless, as there really aren't any other jobs that take those credentials." This is inaccurate. For teachers like me who have a degree other than education and left the private sector to teach, we can go back to our original field. However there are lots of teachers who leave teaching to work for educational product companies or other education related fields.

November 8, 2011 at 7:31 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

nbuible1utk, I think I heard Rhonda Thurman on local talk radio also saying evaluations don't account for what students don't know coming into a teacher's class. OK, take it into account. Test in the first day or week of class: what does each student know? And in the last week: what have they learned? If the students mostly learn a fair share, then the teacher is doing OK, lesson plan or not. (Allow for student capacity too; I know a couple special ed teachers.)
As for older teachers, my oldest daughter seemed to better with older teachers in KG and 2nd grade than with a younger one in 1st grade, but that kind of thing probably depends both on teacher and on each student.

November 8, 2011 at 9:21 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Having recently returned to college, one of my first impressions of education today is that we have gone overboard with the bureaucracy of accreditation. Look at the textbooks. It's all part of a corporate machine now: from outsourced, for-profit, websites to the textbooks to the course syllabus. If it doesn't all have the same "Learning Objective" acronym printed on there, the instructor's course does not get approved.

Education reform means teaching jobs require on CYA, not actual teaching improvements. The acronyms are useless but required, for example.

Once, long ago, in a land not so far away, I was actually able to get a class taught by a teacher and not a textbook corporation. We called that dreamland "school." Learning took place there. Nice ones had a library with books. People actually learned to read, write and do math.

Now, "it's all online," and all for someone else's quick profit.

Sometime during the Bush administration I logged on to a government communications system and noticed many for-profit education companies were advertising to the military directly over the same email systems they used for routine communications.

Ads on government servers soliciting government workers to spend their money on for-profit education ventures. That's what the Bush administration got us; right on the heels of GI Bill increases.

More money for education, to politicians, means more money for political supporters in the educational materials business.

It's just one more notch in the money belt, to politicians.

I view Governor Haslam's endorsements for education reform with an eye focused by past experiences like those above.

It's not the teachers, but the for-profit corporations who have gotten out of control when it comes to educating people. Where is the teacher's opinion? Where is the genuinely built course of instruction?

None of it is the teacher's idea anymore. It's all about check the block. Meanwhile, people will rant and complain at the teachers. Teachers aren't making any money off of this increased BS. They put in the work, more work, that obfuscates, not supports, the actual classroom work that is the heart of teaching and learning.

Make those outsourcing companies go non-profit. Then we'll find out who's in it for the job. Put some of those CEOs on the same pay scale as these classroom teachers who get dog cussed and blamed by parents who do not check --ever-- if their kids have done their work.

When politicians get behind education reform in this age of corporate payoffs, follow the money trail. If the governor is suddenly supportive of educational reform, perhaps we should check to see which one of his patrons gets paid that way.

You can bet it won't be a common schoolteacher.

November 8, 2011 at 11:50 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

When I read that line about the lesson plans, I immediately thought about this ____storm of check the block nonsense that's cropped up everywhere. It's almost as though swindlers realized that they couldn't use the Internet to make a fast buck off of financial fraud anymore as they once could; they gravitated quickly to intellectual property fraud instead. The most profitable subfield of that are the required courses and teaching materials and "certifications" and other BS that goes into politically approving the classroom.

We've got people out there doing everything they can to milk government actions into corporate profits. They're not interested in complaining about the local 10 cent tax. They're focused on having their money machine suck as many school systems dry as they can.

Arguably, there are some compelling reasons for doing so. Not all of them are immoral. And if one company all of a sudden gets a heart and starts acting like a man, they'll just be eaten by the next shark in the pool.

Those teachers are getting scapegoated. It's easy to goad some Baby Boomer into yelling like an insane man in a tri-cornered hat about the Constitution. Don't let yourself get manipulated into being part of the distraction. Look at what's happening right in front of your face.

Have you seen a textbook lately? Have you looked at one coordinated to go with these for-profit websites? Have you noticed how those are being required for use everywhere?

The real profits in this aren't in some individual person's paycheck. It's in the money machine of for-profit infrastructure support. And that machine cares zero, nothing, about whether or not a kid gets an education. Instead, it thrives on people yelling at teachers because that yelling means we're not checking the receipts.

November 9, 2011 at 12:21 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Check the receipts. Follow the money trail. You think the teacher's paycheck or benefits are too high? What about the Ivy League shark who did nothing but bill you more than last year for the same textbook? It will arrive as an HTML file -- a web page -- called an "ebook" that will be swiftly deleted after too much use. Don't forget to enter your special code to download the course materials. That code's main function is to keep a student from re-using the book after one semester. Unless he pays twice.

Far superior to those old, reusable, schoolbooks. Definitely more profitable to some distant corporation than having a local teacher use her brains to make her own decisions about how to teach a class.

It's probably no different for these secondary school teachers. Probably even worse, since no intelligent adult will actually look at the material. How many of us, not actually in the profession of teaching, have consulted a 10th grade textbook since we were there? No one. It's the ultimate unregulated industry: the people paying for it will never, ever want to look at anything that has to do with homework.

Profit off of homework supplies and no one will ever check your goods for quality. If they do, require them to refer to your gold stamp that you billed them and their schools into putting on your book.

Follow the money trail. It'll lead to a textbook company; really, today it'll lead to an online educational infrastructural support company; they'll provide books, email systems, online tests, the works.

I don't know if one of those leads on further to the Governors, but thanks to his endorsement above, I wouldn't be too surprised.

November 9, 2011 at 12:29 a.m.
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